Saturday, November 18, 2017

Pope on a rope

Both my wife and I grew up in Catholic families, so it should not be a surprise that both of our families had at least a few “pope on the rope” soaps at various times in our childhood. It is difficult to determine when the “pope on a rope” was first sold, but it is easy to determine when they were no longer available. In 1985, the Vatican decided that having a chunk of soap fashioned to look like a pope was not a proper use of a papal figure, and sales stopped soon after that.

Both of our families also had magnetic St. Christopher statues sitting on the dashboard of the family sedan. With the advent of padded dashes, the magnetic statues became outdated, but you can still buy St. Christopher medals today. Since St. Christopher is the patron saint of travelers, having a medal of him in your car on a long trip is probable a good idea.

Contrary to common opinion, the history of papal succession is NOT an unbroken line of men from St. Peter to the present day. The first break in the tradition is Pope Joan, who apparently was the pope for a brief period of time in the 11th century. Since Pope Joan is a bit of a legend, and since she is not listed on the register of popes, it is difficult to tell if she was actually the pope, but her legend lives on.

The first disruption in the “chain of command” was the Western Schism, which lasted from 1378 until 1417, when men of the Avignon papacy and the Rome papacy both claimed to be pope. Things got even more complicated in 1409 when the Council of Pisa established a THIRD pope. Starting in 1414, the Council of Constance cleared things up. Today, there is only one pope, who lives in Rome. The Eastern Orthodox Church of today does not have a pope, but Bartholomew 1 holds the title of “primus inter pares” which means “first among equals”.

Over the years, I have read a few books about the various popes. “Hitler’s pope”, published in 1999, describes how Pope Pius XII dealt with the rise of Hitler, who was actually raised as a Catholic.

More recently, I am in the process of reading “The Francis Miracle”, which provides a great deal of information about the man who was born as Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Italy.

Even if you are not a Catholic, it is a compelling story about his unlikely ascendancy to his current position. In my opinion, he is the best pope of my lifetime, but that is an opinion that would not be shared by the more conservative Catholics of today. The most prominent of that group would include German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller and American Cardinal Raymond Burke. Since Mueller is the pope’s own doctrinal chief, the reign of Pope Francis will become even more interesting to watch.

In his closing comments, the author of the book (John L. Allen) had this to say about Pope Francis:

“Catholicism has never fully been the church of Pope John XXIII, John Paul II, or, for that matter, Gregory the Great or St. Peter himself. It has too much of its own mind -  or, rather, 1.2 billion individual minds, all encouraged by Catholic tradition to bring their own reason to bear on what the faith means to them. The nature of the Church is that no one individual, not even a pope, can dictate its rhythms and its culture. That said, a handful of popes over the centuries clearly changed the Church forever, definitely closing some doors and kicking others open against all odds.

Francis’s mission is to move the Church to the political center, the margins of the world and the heart of the gospel. Will he pull it off in a way that lasts? We can’t be certain, of course, but anyone watching him at work knows the smart bet probably isn’t against him”   

Can I get an “amen”, brothers and sisters?

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater

I recently monitored an art class, and was intrigued by a carved pumpkin in the back of the room, which looked like this:

The next day, I ran into the instructor for the class, who told me that he was inspired by the work of a man named Ray Villafane, who owns a studio in Phoenix. You can view some of his creations at the link below:

My favorite is the deranged clown shown below:

If you would like to read more about the artist, click on the link below:

Although his specialty is carved pumpkins, he also has done some sand carving as well, which you can also see at the link shown above.

We have all carved numerous pumpkins in our lives, but none of them could hold a candle (pun intended) to the work of Mr. Villafane. Only in America could a man make a living carving pumpkins!

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Mary and the grasshoppers

If you are even remotely familiar with the Old Testament, you are aware of the fact that the ancient Egyptians, due to their enslavement of the Israelites, suffered 10 plagues, one of which was the invasion of the locusts. The other plagues included frogs, lice, hail, boils, and the death of every first born Egyptian son.

More than 2000 years later, you would think that the locust plague was ancient history – but you would be wrong.

In 2013, the locusts came back to Egypt. Although it is difficult to get an accurate count, it is estimated that 30 million locusts invaded Egypt in the early months of 2013, just before the Jewish Passover.

Not surprisingly, Egypt is not the only place that has been invaded by locusts, but before I explore the other locations, it is important to know exactly WHAT a locust is.

In essence, a locust is virtually the same as a grasshopper, and the distinction between the two lies in their behavioral patterns. If the critters turn into a swarm, then they have morphed from grasshoppers to locusts.

In the 1870’s, my home state of Minnesota suffered FIVE YEARS of a grasshopper invasions. From 1873 until 1877, the grasshoppers/locusts came every year, and devastated crops in most of the state. The farmers affected by the plagues tried every thing that they could think of, but none of the remedies seemed to work. In the spring of 1877, Minnesota governor John S. Pillsbury designated April 26 as a day of prayer. Although rain turned to snow that night, potentially freezing the varmints out, they were as plentiful as ever after the storm passed.

In July of 1877, the residents of the town of Cold Spring, Minnesota, erected a chapel to honor the Blessed Virgin. The official name for the chapel is Assumption Chapel, but it is also known as Grasshopper Chapel. The first mass at the chapel was held on August 15, and not long after that, the grasshoppers virtually disappeared.

In 1892, a tornado tossed the chapel into a nearby woods, entirely destroying the structure. The only thing that remained on the original structure was the statute of the Blessed Virgin, which was undamaged. In 1952, the chapel was finally rebuilt. Each year, a mass is held on the site on August 15, and daily masses are said each year for 7 weeks in the spring in order to bring blessings during the planting season.

You may or not believe that the disappearance of the grasshoppers in 1877 was a miracle, but it would not be much of a stretch to say that it was. Over the past few centuries, the Vatican has researched 295 apparitions of the Blessed Virgin, but has officially recognized only 12, the most recent being the 2008 approval of the 17th and 18th century apparitions of Our Lady of Laus.

The 2nd largest religious group in the United States is the one that includes Americans without a religious affiliation. At 22.8% of the population, it is a larger group than Catholics, who are 20.8 % of the population, but a lot smaller than the group labeled “Protestants”, who make up 46.5% of our population.

I have never personally witnessed any miracles, but I HAVE been to Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois, where some VERY miraculous occurrences have taken place.

In my opinion, it is totally irrelevant what your religious views are. However, even if you are totally irreligious, it is always wise to allow room for the miracles that WILL occur sometime during your lifetime. If you don’t believe me, take a trip to Cold Spring, Minnesota.

I think that you will see the light.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

I’m going to wash your mouth out with soap

Soap is one of those products that we all use on a daily basis. Very few of us would consider it to be a very exciting product, nor would we consider it to be controversial in any way.

In colonial and early pioneer days, everyone had to make their own soap, since you couldn’t simply go to the store and buy the stuff. Needless to say, it was a time consuming and arduous task, and it didn’t always turn out the way that you wanted it. The link below provides some of the details about the process:

On November 6, 1959, Richard DeVos and Jay Van Andel started a company called Amway, and their product line was almost exclusively health, beauty, and home care products. Initially, the company’s ONLY product was an organic liquid cleaner, but it soon added other products as well. Rather than sell their products in retail stores, the company relied on a multi-level marketing system to sell and distribute its goods. The company’s sales strategy turned out to be extremely successful. In 2014, the company’s annual sales were $11.8 billion, and the products are sold in 80 countries. As of today’s date, Richard DeVos is worth $5.1 billion. Upon his death, his son Dick (and his wife Betsy) will inherit that vast fortune, which is larger than the net worth of Betsy’s new boss, Donald Trump, who is “only” worth $3.7 billion.

In the early 1970’s, a woman named Marilyn Chambers played the role of the Ivory Snow Girl. Since the Ivory Snow Girl was “99 and 44/100ths percent pure”, her role would not have been the least bit controversial. However, Proctor and Gamble soon discovered that she was the starring actress in a 1972 adult film titled “Behind the Green Door”, and she quickly became the FORMER Ivory Snow Girl.

Despite their best intentions, even large companies sometimes make mistakes in their advertising campaigns, and Dove is the latest example of a company stepping in dog doo doo.

Although the company stated that its intent with the latest ad was to be inclusive, it turned out to be racially insensitive, and it was not the first time that the company had made a similar error.

I’m fairly certain that there will be people in our country who will stop buying Dove products, but I’m also fairly certain that the “controversy” will soon be forgotten by most of us, and the company will not suffer very much for its error. The Dove brand commands a 21% share of the personal cleansing category, significantly higher than the 14% share held by second place Dial. Dove’s parent, Unilever, has annual annuals in excess of $50 billion,   

Dove quickly apologized for its ad, and quickly withdrew it, effectively “washing their mouth out with soap”. The fact that they “came clean” in a timely manner makes it much easier to move on to their next campaign, and we can all move concern ourselves with the NEXT “crisis of the week”.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

And now, a word from MARS

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles broadcast The War of the Worlds on The Mercury Theatre on the Air. The broadcast seemed so authentic that many people, especially those tuning in late, thought that Earth was being invaded by extraterrestrial beings from the planet Mars.

At the time of the broadcast, Welles had already achieved fame on Broadway for his 1937 production of “Caesar”. In 1941, he released the movie “Citizen Kane”, which is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time.

Believe it or not, some of our friends in Minnesota have a close personal relationship with MARS, which obviously requires a more complete explanation.

In the early 1970’s, our friend Dave joined the Air Force. One of his first duty stations was in the Azores, which are a long way from his home state of Minnesota.

While stationed in the Azores, Dave’s wife DeeDee became pregnant with their first child. Rebecca, who was born on February 7, 1972. As you might suspect, transatlantic phone calls were notoriously unreliable at that time, so Dave and Denise relied on MARS to let their parents in Minnesota about the birth of their granddaughter.

To give you an idea how crude the system was, I’ll let them describe it to you in their own words:

The MARS shack was located next to the weather balloon launch site on a ridge overlooking Lajes Field airbase, the Island of Terceira, Azores, Portugal.  Our operator connected to a Ham operator in Ohio, who called long distance to St. Paul.  Every phrase we uttered ended with "Over!”.

MARS is an acronym for the Military Auxiliary Radio System, and it has existed since November.1925, Originally known as the Auxiliary Amateur Radio System, the name was changed to the Military Affiliate Radio System in 1952. In 2009, the name was again changed to the Military Auxiliary Radio System.

The system was designed to provide better communication options for members of the military, and it is supported by a series of licensed amateur radio operators. It still exists today, in spite of the many other communication options that we now have.

NASA has done an admirable job of surveying the planet Mars, and has determined that there was likely some type of life forms on the planet at some point in the past. It is highly doubtful there were ever any INTELLIGENT life forms at any time in the past. However, if you have seen the movie “Idiocracy” is also apparent that there are even places in our country that are lacking in INTELLIGENT life forms.

Since its introduction in 1967 (as ARPANET) the internet has revolutionized life on our planet. Believe or not, however, it IS possible to send an internet message to the planet Mars. The official name for the network is the NASA Deep Space Network, and it relies on a series of satellites. Even though the communications travel at the speed of light, the vast distance between Earth and Mars means that messages can take anywhere from 3 to 22 minutes, which would make it virtually impossible to carry on a phone conversation of any kind.

Despite their early exposure to MARS, Dave and Denise have suffered no long term ill effects. In fact, they just celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary.

A perfect ending to this story, of course, would be that they have since traveled to Roswell, New Mexico in their Saturn, and this is where truth gets stranger than fiction.

In the early 1990’s, they bought a brand new first generation Saturn. Also at some point in the distant past, they actually DID travel to Roswell, and actually spent two nights in the town. I’m actually not sure if they went there in their Saturn, but the possibility does exist.

And that’s all that I have to say …………….

Saturday, August 26, 2017

How terribly strange to be 70



The song “bookends” was one of the songs on Simon and Garfunkel’s fourth studio album, which was also titled Bookends. It was released on March 8, 1968. At the time of its release, both Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were 26 years old. Today, they are both 75 years old, and have considerably less hair than they did in 1968.



I have always loved the song, so I would recommend listening to an original recording of it once again:



When the song was released, I was in my junior year of college, and 70 seemed to be an impossibly old age.  Even my dad, and most of his siblings, still had not reached the milestone year of 70 in 1968.

Now, here’s the hard part.

On August 28, I will become 70 years old, an age that I once thought would put me comfortably into my retirement years, but life doesn’t always work out the way that you planned.

Although I have retired 4 times already, that idyllic state just hasn’t managed to stick. However, that it is also true of a LOT of the musical performers that we grew up with. Simon and Garfunkel are still performing, but so is Roger Waters, Mick Jagger, Arlo Guthrie, and Charlie Daniels. Graham Nash, age 75, was in Philadelphia just last weekend. Even Tony Bennett is still performing, and he is NINETY, for heaven’s sake.


Now that I am actually 70, it no longer feels strange, especially in view of the fact that several of my friends and acquaintances have already died of NATURAL CAUSES.


My YOUNGER sister just retired after 45 years of nursing, and is enjoying her time off immensely. In the short time that she has been retired, she has managed to have a meal at Brennan’s in New Orleans, enjoyed a meditation weekend in northern California, and had a slice at Mystic Pizza in Connecticut. Not a bad way to spend your retirement years!


As for me, I will likely work for another year or two (unless my Powerball ticket pays off). If that doesn’t happen, though, I still plan to live life to its fullest, and I am not planning on “checking out” any time in the near future.










Monday, August 21, 2017

I work with Santa Claus



Apart from the fact that working as a substitute teacher pays pretty well for the number of hours I put in, there are 3 additional reasons that I continue to work in my so-called retirement years: 

1) every week, I learn at least one new thing

2) every week, I manage to teach a bunch of students a few new things

3) every week, I meet some very interesting people, both young and old 

When I checked into the office of a local high school on one of the first days of the current school year, I found myself standing directly behind a man who was wearing a bright red shirt, and was sporting a a delightful bushy white beard. Since he apparently would not need a pillow to fill out a Santa costume, my first thought on seeing him was “that’s Santa Claus!” As it turns out, I was exactly right.

His name is Mark. Like most baby boomers, he has held a variety of jobs in his lifetime, including bartender, music venue manager, legal researcher, stage actor, and on-air personality. As a result of his work in the music industry, he had a chance to work closely with a number of famous performers. And, yes, he got a chance to know Jerry Garcia personally. 

In 2012, he started working as a department store Santa during the holiday season. He typically works a 5 week shift, and gets paid VERY WELL for his time, and his compensation usually includes the use of a car and lodging. Since he is just as generous as Santa, he uses the majority of his "mall money" to support his charity work, which is visiting home and hospital bound children and adults in the Tucson area, which he does on a year-round basis.

As you’re probably aware, Santa is very familiar with technology. After all, how else could he keep track of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice? Not surprisingly, a few years before Mark started working as a department store Santa, he started a Facebook page called Santa for all seasons.  

In recent years, he has expanded his interests to include working as a substitute teacher at local high schools. Like most of us, he usually winds up monitoring a class that is not related to his major in college (I have yet to monitor an Economics class). In the Army, people who are trained cooks wind up being mechanics, and trained mechanics wind up being cooks. Somehow, it works for the Army, and it also seems to work for local school districts here. 

Not everyone gets to work with a celebrity on a daily basis, but if you’re listening, Virginia, I have a few words of wisdom for you: 

There IS a Santa Claus!